Cadillac’s After 26 Depot Cafe: Serving Up Work Skills and Good Eats

Good food plus amazing service plus helping the community? Sounds like the perfect recipe for a destination eating experience.

The After 26 Depot Café in Cadillac provides just that, and so much more. It is a non-profit restaurant that employs adults with cognitive impairments and developmental disabilities and gives them the skills they need to advance to other jobs, if they choose to do so.

The idea originated after a group of individuals, including retired teachers, parents of children with special needs and others, were inspired by another restaurant called Junction of Hope in Chesney. They decided to model their own restaurant after it. The After 26 Depot Café opened five years later in 2013 and has been serving the Cadillac community ever since.

“In Michigan, at the age of 26, adults with special needs graduate from the public school system and often times they’re left with the question of ‘what’s next?’” said Kelly Hondorp, general manager of the After 26 Depot Café. “The After 26 Depot and Café gives them the opportunity to continue socializing while also providing them with the skills to potentially find other employment within the community.”

The After 26 project gives individuals with disabilities the opportunity to gain important skills to help them advance. “We currently offer two positions for our project workers, which is the term we use for our employees with special needs. The positions are bussing tables and washing dishes,” Hondorp said. “While both of those positions are obvious with their duties, we also have our bussers help the servers by doing various tasks such as seating guests at their table, providing guests with their beverage and helping with running some of the food. The dishwashers help the cook with some food prep and baking.”

As the workers are given more responsibilities, they’re learning more skills as well, which helps to build their confidence. “The project workers definitely have a sense of pride while they’re working. Obviously they love the socialization aspect. But they also love being part of a team,” added Hondorp.

While the goal of the After 26 project is to give workers the skills needed to move on to other jobs, most workers are so happy at the After 26 Depot that they aren’t seeking employment elsewhere. As Hondorp shared, “To many of them, this is their home away from home.”

Hondorp loves working with the project workers. “I’m blessed every day that I come into work. Each day is very different … but one thing that’s always for sure is that the project workers will walk through the door with a smile on their face. They’re just so happy to be at work and I’ve never had a job before where that happens every day,” said Hondorp.

Hondorp also added that the After 26 project would never be possible without her board of directors, past and present, and the support of the Cadillac community.

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Photos courtesy of Kelly Hondorp

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